(Editor’s note: This content is provided by Humana Inc., a Next Avenue sponsor.)
It’s been said that we’re stronger together than we are on our own, and that may be even truer as we age. Yet, with all the focus on prioritizing physical health – important in its own right – our social well-being can sometimes go overlooked.
That’s why for Active Aging Week, presented by Humana, taking place October 1-7, people of all ages are encouraged to celebrate active living, reminding us that well-being goes beyond exercise and a healthy diet – it includes mental, social and emotional health, too. Experiencing loneliness and social isolation can have negative rippling effects for physical and mental health, especially as we age. This Active Aging Week, we can start to tackle these issues together.
First, it may help to understand what social isolation really is. While every person’s needs are unique, social isolation can happen as we fall out of touch with friends or family — or it can even stem from a lack of connection with society as a whole.
Research from the National Institutes of Health highlights the potential risks and effects of loneliness, both physically (from inflammation to elevated blood pressure) and mentally (from depression to Alzheimer’s). Any mental effects may deserve extra attention, as 7% of the world’s population 60 years and older experience depression, and almost 4% report anxiety disorders.
Yet, if there’s only one stat to walk away with, it’s this: on average, Americans over the age of 60 spend more than half of their waking hours alone.
Coming together can be one way we can address social isolation head-on, and that’s why Humana teamed up with the International Council on Active Aging to host Active Aging Week and sound the call. It’s a time when thousands of older Americans across the country join together with a shared motivation — to celebrate living healthy lifestyles. But our focus on active aging extends beyond the week itself, and includes an intergenerational commitment to connect with society as a whole. So how can you build on and extend this message beyond Active Aging Week?
Below are some tips for engaging more with people of all ages in your everyday life. Give them a try, and know at its heart, your community is here for you:
Playing with your grandkids: This is for more than just fun — though we hope it’s plenty of that too! The National Institute on Aging notes that caring for grandchildren leads to stronger emotional bonds that lead to more active lifestyles. Though young kids’ and teens’ needs also change as they age, they represent a different kind of give and take. They’re both a window into what’s new in an ever-changing society and an open door for your guidance and mentoring. Grandchildren tend to admire and look up to their grandparents, but you might be surprised by how much you can learn from them, too.
Volunteering for a cause: Chances are there’s a special cause or organization you care for. Not only do others likely share that passion with you, but also they likely come from different generations and backgrounds. Devoting your time and spirit can help foster meaningful social connections — and renew feelings of meaning in life. A recent longitudinal study in the U.S. suggests just two hours of volunteering a week could lead to a drop in loneliness.
Moving on by moving more: Remember at the beginning when we said healthy living is about more than being active? Well, that exercise could help you socially, too. Experiments have shown the link between physical activity and emotional well-being, which is a benefit even if you choose to exercise alone. But just because you’re not in high school anymore doesn’t mean you have to give up being on a team.
Love tennis but want something less strenuous? Try pickleball. Seeking more of a community than competition? Yoga is built on that, or you can consider signing up for a SilverSneakers class. There are even groups for those who like to jog or walk, so no matter how far you like to go, you can have company while you blaze new trails.
Active Aging Week is an important reminder that being active can come in different forms. For more information on Active Aging Week and to see what programs are happening in your town, please visit ActiveAgingWeek.com.
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